Saline Area Schools Supt. Scot Graden and school board trustees are framing their decision to put off a pre-Labor Day start to the 2019-2020 school year as a compromise and a chance for families to get used to the idea.
Michigan schools have been required by law to start classes after Labor Day since the 2006-2007 school year after legislation, favored by the Michigan tourism industry, was passed. However, schools can apply to the state superintendent's office for a waiver, and a record number of schools have applied for the waiver for the current school year.
Saline Area Schools applied for the waiver in autumn of 2017 and heard the application was successful in December.
Graden and other school staffers then compiled a list of pros and cons for either an Aug. 27 start date or a Sept. 4 start date for the 2018 school year. Advantages to starting early include giving Advanced Placement students one more day of schooling and studying before AP tests in May, finishing the school year a week earlier (June 7 vs. June 14) and being in closer alignment with college and university calendars, which will affect students in a dual enrollment program.
Graden found through an informal poll that staff is generally in favor of the pre-Labor Day start plan. About two-thirds of staff was in favor of the early start, and about one-third was either against an early start or had no opinion.
However, at a public forum in January and through surveys sent to students and parents, trustees found that family and community feelings were more mixed, at close to 50 percent for an early start, and 50 percent against.
At the Jan. 23 meeting of the board of education, Graden said they had contacted the state superintendent’s office and had their approved one-year waiver extended to a three-year version.
“My recommendation is to move to a pre-Labor Day start, because the vast majority of the staff feel it’s a more effective calendar for student learning,” Graden said, but added that he believed the early start be put off until autumn of 2019.
He noted that some families make travel and vacation plans many months in advance, and putting off the pre-Labor Day start would give those families and students time to get used to the change.
Trustee Dennis Valenti agreed. “It will give families time to adjust their calendars. I don’t plan that far in advance, but apparently lot of people do.”
Vice President Paul Hynek and Secretary Heidi Pfannes are in favor of a pre-Labor Day start but voted against the superintendent’s recommendation because they felt the school district should implement it sooner, for the 2018-19 school year.
“If you wait a year or do it now, some parents won’t like it,” Hynek said during the Jan. 23 discussion. “Change is hard, and there will be angst no matter what you do.”
Pfannes said during the school board meeting that she felt the pre-Labor Day start calendar was better aligned with the standardized testing schedule and felt “it makes more sense from an educational viewpoint to start now rather than later.”
The final roll call vote was 5-2 in favor of moving the early start to autumn of 2019, with Board President Tim Austin and Trustees Michael McVey, Valenti, Scott Hummell, and Karen Delhey voting “yea” and Hynek and Pfannes voting “nay.”
Watch a video about the vote and read more comments from the dissenting trustees here.